Is that beautiful “original” hanging in your living room authentic?
According to Columbia Law School, some experts estimate that as many as 40% of artwork sales involve forgeries. Statistically, there’s a two-in-five chance that your “original” is actually a fake.
Forgeries are more common than most art buyers realize, say art collectors and experts. Regardless of the artwork’s origin, purported provenance, or cost, you need to ascertain its authenticity.
That process begins with a credible authenticator. You’ll want to ask that person some questions:
1. Do You Use Authentication Software?
Art authentication isn’t solely about intuition. Modern authenticators increasingly use sophisticated, algorithm-driven software “trained” to detect inconsistencies, variations, or flaws that suggest foul play. Eric Postma, a professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, shared his cutting-edge software with PBS NOVA back in 2008. His proudest achievement: ferreting out the famed Wacker forgery, one of history’s most vexing.
2. What Other Methods Do You Use?
Algorithmic software is just one of many technological tools in an authenticator’s belt. Reputable authenticators like the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) use “X-radiography, infrared reflectography, pigment or media testing, fiber analysis,” and other techniques. A bigger toolbelt is usually better.
3. Can You Authenticate Any Artist’s Work?
Some authenticators focus on a relative handful of prominent artists or discrete periods of art history. Others are more versatile. If you’re in possession of an obscure but potentially valuable work, you’ll need to do your due diligence to find someone capable of accurate authentication.
4. Will You Alter the Work in Any Way?
It goes without saying that your work is worth more intact than altered, regardless of its true origins. Before signing an authentication contract, confirm with the authenticator that they won’t damage or alter the work in any way. Some single-artist foundations are known to stamp purported forgeries, denying their owners the right to second opinions.
5. Is an Original Necessarily Authentic?
Can an original be inauthentic?
When a work is genuine — actually created by he or she who claimed to create it — it’s by definition an original. But that doesn’t mean it’s meant for prime time. Every great artist has a “B-roll” of sketches, drafts, larks, and the like. When they pass on, opportunistic relatives or estate managers often try to sell them off, contrary to their likely intent. It’s important to know when you’re in possession of a “work” that was never supposed to see the light of day.
6. How Much Do You Charge?
This isn’t a very creative question, but he answer is important to know up front. Many authenticators charge non-refundable deposits simply for agreeing to consider the work. Once the piece is accepted for authentication, there’s likely to be another charge — possibly refundable and held in escrow, possibly not. During authentication, the authenticator may incur additional expenses, depending on the techniques used or the amount of research required; these are typically passed on to the owner or agent. Final payment is due after issuance of an official report, regardless of its findings.